Friday, 21 July 2017


The single-stringed instrument is an integral part of Maharashtra’s folk culture

During a trip to Mumbai for a concert, we visited our cousin in Thane. There we witnessed a procession of the deity Amba Devi, where Gondhalis dressed in red, wearing a head gear decorated with shells (some had peacock feathers), danced to the accompaniment of drums and a one-stringed folk instrument called tuntuna.
Usually found in rural parts of the country among the Bhil, Kukna, Gondhal and Warli communities, the tuntuna is also used for devotional music, ballards and lavanis. Known as tuntina or tuntuni and chohokhode, it comes under two categories: Tata vadyas or chordophones of the plucked variety and sruti vadyas or stringed drone instrument, as it sounds the key note or the main tonic note.
The Gondhalis, who are professional musicians, play this instrument. They seek alms by singing and dancing in honour of their deities, Renuka and Bhavani to the accompaniment of the drum, cymbals and tuntuna. The instrument is also played by gypsies.

Single note drone

The tuntuna is further classified under the single note drones that produces only one note, which is the adhara shadja or the tonic note. The string is usually tuned to the main key of the performer or sometimes to a higher octave (tonic/shadja).
The tuntuna has a hollow wooden or metal cylinder and a parchment covers the lower part of this instrument. A stick fixed to the cylinder has a tuning peg at the top. A metal string is tied to a small stick, which passes through a copper coin and a hole in the centre of the parchment and this is fastened to the tuning peg. Peacock feathers are used to decorate the top of the stick sometimes.
Tuntuna is an integral part of the folk theatre form of Maharashtra called Tamasha, which combines music and dance. Dolki and manjeera are the other instruments used. The tuntuna players (also known as the tuntunawala) sing the refrain or chorus after the main singer, like in the ballad form powada, which is an older form of narrative singing. The powada was performed by the Gondhalis. The tuntunawala holds the instrument in his right hand and plucks the string with the nail of his index finger.
The instrument is played in honour of Devi Bhavani and at marriages. On this occasion, five Gondhali men dance after praying to the deity and her beloved Siva. Then they perform an invocation to Khandoba and other gods, after which, stories from the Ramayana and other mythologies are narrated with singing and dancing. The performance ends in the early hours of the morning.
Tuntuna, cymbals and sambal are also a part of the Gondhal, a religious practice that is also an important folk art form of Maharashtra.
Among the different global musical cultures, there are similar instruments such as the Cung of East Africa, Tushuenkin of China and Bau of Vietnam, which are known as monochords.
The writers are well known Carnatic musicians

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